Just before imposing new sanctions on Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the country’s “Cabinet is in disarray, and the Iranian people are raising their voices even louder against a corrupt and hypocritical regime”. While this is clearly true, it is also true that sanctions alone are unlikely to topple the government or force democratic reforms. For that to happen, foreign governments and domestic opposition leaders must take another critical step — to finally acknowledge the importance of the country’s ethnic minorities and develop policies to address their demands.
As Pompeo noted, Iran’s leaders have been facing significant pressure from within. A major driving force of the anti-government activity has been ethnic minority groups, in particular the Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Ahvaz Arabs and Baluch. Each has long engaged in protests, over issues ranging from the right to use native languages in schools and courts, to local health and environmental concerns, to broader calls for the end of the regime.